Review by Gordon Justesen
Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason
Schwartzman, Bob Balaban
Director: Wes Anderson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: September 22, 2015
ďI think youíve still got lightning in you.Ē
Giving three stars to a Wes Anderson film, I feel, is like giving one and a half stars to a film beneath the strengths of this one of a kind independent auteur. Iíve struggled with my reaction to Moonrise Kingdom quite a bit. Donít get me wrong, itís a film I admire quite a bitÖbut in ranking Andersonís filmography, of which there isnít a single bad film to be found, this ranks in the good but not great category, placing it alongside The Life Aquatic.
And yet, this was a major critical darling when it first came out, with Anderson getting the best reviews heíd received in years. Prior to this, his films seemed to polarize critics (most notably The Darjeeling Limited, which I find to be one of his absolute best). But this ultra whimsical tale of youthful love in 1965 New England somehow struck a chord with critics and audiences, again leaving me in the minority of those who simply found it to be good and nothing more.
But Andersonís wondrous envisioning is ever so present from the opening frame of this gleefully awkward fable, which centers on a blossoming romance between two twelve year olds. Khaki scout Sam (Jared Gilman), is a bit of a social outcast who is immediately smitten at first sight of Suzy (Kara Hayward). They first meet backstage at a play Suzy is performing in, and after a series of letter exchanges, decide to meet up and run away together in the wilderness.
This, of course, causes concern of both Samís troop leader, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton, in a terrifically comic departure) and Suzyís uptight parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand). Before long, a search party is initiated by the town constable, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to track down the two. This leads to the unfortunate action by Sharp of deputizing the young members of Samís troop, who feel the need to arm themselves since itís believed that Sam is mentally unstable resulting from the death of his parents.
Andersonís films have always carried a uniquely bizarre balance between lighthearted quirky comedy and that of demented insanity (no other film of his demonstrated this beautifully than the brilliant Grand Budapest Hotel). Here, that balance doesnít quite work. In particular, a mildly violent confrontation between Sam and his fellow scouts seems bizarrely out of place, only to have this conflict resolved a little too quickly later in the film.
But my criticisms of Moonrise Kingdom are way outshined by what I admired about it, most of which can be attributed to the nuances Anderson applies to the proceedings. These include having a narrator (Bob Balaban) occasionally popping up on screen, as well as the one of a kind music of both composer Alexandre Desplat and legendary composer Benjamin Britten which becomes a character in and of itself, and Andersonís glorious look of the film, which he shot in 16mm. Not to mention a well rounded cast featuring Bruce Willis in a nice lighthearted departure, Anderson pros Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, and an unexpected delightful pop up from Harvey Keitel.
I do find Moonrise Kingdom to be yet another piece of quirky originality from Wes Anderson. My overall opinion may have lowered since first seeing it more than three years ago, especially since the far greater Grand Budapest Hotel has surfaced since then. But this is nonetheless a good effort from Anderson, meaning itís still way better than a good chunk of whatís offered from the Hollywood mainstream.
Criterion and Wes Anderson go hand and hand, as we all know, and this Blu-ray offering is another glorious addition to collaborative library of studio and filmmaker. Mastered by way of a new 2k digital transfer, the 16mm look of the film is absolutely breathtaking. The autumn like colors appear quite beautifully, as well. And Andersonís distinctive camera work and directorial style pay off endless as your eyes are treated right from opening frame.
Equal high marks for the sound quality. The DTS HD mix encompasses all the great Anderson trademarks, most notably that of outstanding music performance (the Benjamin Britten music really does shine throughout). A later sequence involving a menacing lighting storm provides some true show-stopping surround sound. Dialogue delivery is handled terrifically clear, as expected.
Criterion delivers one of their absolute best release packages to date, not just as far as extras go but in the packaging itself, which is a digipak case with a slip cover, and beautiful artwork all around. This will go down as one of the best looking releases of the year. As far as extras go, we have a lot, starting with a great commentary featuring Wes Anderson, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and co-writer Roman Coppola. In addition, there are Selected-scene storyboard animatics, interviews with cast and crew, a documentary entitled ďExploring the Set of Moonrise KingdomĒ, a collection of home movies from the set shot by Edward Norton, behind the scenes test footage, auditions and a Trailer.
Last but not least, thereís a booklet (made in the style of a magazine seen in the film) featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey OíBrien and a selection of commentary from young writers, along with a map of New Penzance Island itself!
Another original piece of work from Wes Anderson results in yet another fantastic Criterion Blu-ray release. Moonrise Kingdom, while not as strong as other titles in the Anderson catalog, is nevertheless a charmingly artistic and whimsical fable as only a director of this unique type can bring to the screen! Hands down one of the must have Blu-ray releases of 2015!